From being a herdsman’s wife dealing with dairy cows, to her love of pigs, working for an insurance company, assisting with every NDP election campaign since the 1960s, and working for the St. Andrews Anglican Diocese for more than 40 years, Prince Rupert’s Jennifer Davies has a life filled with adventures starting from the other side of the world.
The 90-years-young classic well-spoken lady shared with The Northern View that her parents were from Victorian-era Great Britain. With her own mother born in 1894, she was 37 when Jennifer was born.
The Second World War started when she was just eight years old and ended when she was 12. She said she didn’t notice a difference in life or times during the war because that’s just how things were as she grew up 20 miles from London.
“I don’t know that (life) changed for me because I didn’t know what it was before,” she said. “I remember the Blitz. When London was on fire you could practically see it from the house. But I remember it.”
Jennifer said she has always watched lots of television programs around Armistice or Remembrance Day and she notes that each year with dismay less and less is shown.
“I could watch those things quite happily, and cry through the whole lot, but this year there weren’t very many – if any. Maybe there were too many other things going on this past year,” she said.
Watching television is something she does often as COVID-19 has basically shut her inside the home she has lived in for more than 30 years in the city’s east side. Due to health and the need to stay safe away from the virus she hasn’t had many visitors and explained she hasn’t been out except for doctors’ appointments, and definitely not for any fun or social activities for a year now.
A very precise lady she is unyielding in telling you what’s on her mind or what she doesn’t like. She likes British and Canadian produced T.V. shows. She loves a cup of Tetley’s tea which can change flavour depending on the local water. She loves orange marmalade — but only the English Robertson’s brand which one of her sons brings to her when he visits from Kitimat.
Jennifer and her husband Peter left England for Canada in 1956 when Canadian National Railways was paying for new immigrants to move to the country. Peter had been working as a herdsman in the dairy industry milking cows when obtained a job just outside of Prince George. He arrived by ship, with Jennifer and their eldest son who was six years old arriving in the country six weeks later by plane.
“Well, I actually loved that job. I used to go out and help. (Our son) would come with me and we go out there together and help dad,” she said.
Times were different back then. When Jennifer was due to have another baby she was working in a building supply almost to the day of the birth. Employers’ expectations were not the same as they are now.
“The baby was due in two weeks, so I left to be home at that point. I’m damned if she wasn’t born that same weekend. My boss expected me to be back in two weeks after the baby was born,” she said. “So I had to find someone to work for me.”
After a little while, her boss telephoned her and asked her to come back.
“He said Mrs. Jennifer, I can’t cope with this woman. She doesn’t know what. Please come back.”
Jennifer ended up going back after telling him that she would have to bring the baby. Little Sally would accompany her mom to work carried in a basket.
Soon after the family moved to Vancouver and Langley where they had some land and built a barn. They took an interest in Yorkshire Weiner pigs and breeding them.
A fond memory is when she and Peter drove to the University of British Columbia to purchase some of the small porkers.
“We bought six of them. We just put them in our Volkswagon Beetle, would you believe and drove them back to Langley.”
After hiring a boar for breeding they eventually purchased their own, but Jennifer said he was slow in doing what needed to be done.
“I got to know my sows. I just love pigs. And when the time came for them to farrow, I lay down beside them and rubbed their tummies, you know? I was their mama.”
“Oh – and they were always spotlessly clean. They never ever pooped anywhere but where you told them to.”
Jennifer said admittedly she does get a bit touchy when people refer to pigs as ‘dirty’.
“I get upset. Don’t ever call pigs dirty. They are not, they are the cleanest animals around. Horses and cows and sheep and everything else just (poop) where they want to go. A pig never does.”
Ultimately, they bred a herd of around 200 Weiners that they would keep until they grew to the right size for pork.
Jennifer said she doesn’t have an issue eating pork, beef or lamb, but put a rabbit in front of her and she can not bear it, despite having bred them as well for eating.
When asked if she had any funny pig stories, she replied chuckling that “life is all funny in that type of thing.”
One day after Peter went on a fishing trip he came home and told the family they were moving for a new job in the mining industry.
The family moved to Canim Lake, near 100 Mile House. They obtained property on the less travelled north side and built a house. During the construction, they lived in a tent on the property – mom, dad and three kids. One was already away at university.
“It was fun. I was too young to have anything but fun and too hardworking to be bothered by it.”
Eventually, the family made their way back up to the north of the province settling in Kitimat for a while where she became the director of a child development centre where lots of fundraising was done and she also worked on NDP electoral campaigns.
“We used to have all sorts of (functions). We had dances and big potluck suppers. It was a very great time actually.”
She has been assisting with every NDP campaign for more than 50 years, with the last campaign she worked on being when Jennifer Rice MLA for the North Coast was first elected in 2013.
“I was never into politics to an extent. I wouldn’t want to say to a candidate ‘go here and go there and do this and talk about that’. That wasn’t my bag,” Jennifer said. “But, I would arrange it.”
She said at the polls there would be almost 100 people and she would remember each of their names, even when she didn’t see them until four years later at the next election. Working has always filled her life and she would often during a campaign work her job during the day and be working on the campaign at night until after 9 p.m.
“I never had any time to fill, because it was always full,” she said. “I tell people that I have all the time in the world but none to spare.”
It was in 1984 after her four children were grown when she moved to Prince Rupert for a job with St. Andrews Anglican Diocese. She had started off working as a secretary for the Bishop in Prince George, even though she didn’t know how to type, she said.
Always involved in the church, she now enjoys organizing church history files and has compiled a myriad of information on the church history. She has even turned an unused room in the church into a sort of history room for which she has sewn the curtains for and decorated. She doesn’t go down there by herself anymore due to access and mobility. She has had three hip and back surgeries she said were great 25 years ago, but not so much now at almost 90.
“I’m turning 90 in June. I used to say I’m going to live to be 90. So, I’m wondering what’s going to happen after that,” she said. “I’m going to have to change it and say I’m going to live to be 95 … I have no idea. We are only here one day at a time.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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